My Destiny
A River Runs Through It

Life on Shuffle

Medium.41.207415 On a long road trip recently, I experienced something by choice that is a rarity in this time.  I probably have at least 500 songs on my IPod, a fraction of what is available to me at home but plenty to choose from.  Only I didn't.  I put the IPod on shuffle and for nearly four hours disciplined myself to listen to every song that came to me, unbidden, welcoming it, considering its lyric and sound.  Interestingly enough, at least every other song I felt the compulsion to skip the song, surprising considering that I chose these songs! But I take that as a symptom of cultural attention deficit disorder to which I'm not immune.

Within reason, we can now listen to whatever song we want to listen to, at any time, in almost any place, as many times as we like.  Music is ubiquitous --- widely accessible, portable, and taste-driven.  If I want it, I can have it.  Now.  I do not have to wait.  In a not so distant time, we had to wait for a DJ to play our favorite song on the radio, whether "In a Gada Da Vida or "Bus Stop." Or if we were lucky we'd find the record and buy it in a record store and take it home and listen.  If we push back farther in time, prior to the phonograph, to hear a song we had to hear it live.  We had to be there.  And we had to wait for that time. We had to anticipate that experience.  Choice was limited but experience rich and savored.

Something is lost in this expansion of choice.  By taking songs as they came, by abandoning choice and denying whatever momentary passion came over me, I realized that my experience was richer.  I wasn't bored.  I was more attentive.  I discovered a richness in songs that at first I wanted to skip.  I enjoyed the surprise of hearing what was next. I enjoyed the restfulness of not choosing.  Some oft-skipped bit of progressive rock on Yes's Fragile CD needed to be savored, not skipped on the way to the immediately captivating "Roundabout."

It's a great lesson for life, this shuffling through, if I allow it.  I don't have to have my way. I need not make a choice.  What if, when I go to a restaurant, I just tell the server to bring me his or her favorite dish, if I tell them to just "surprise me?"  I might try that sometime. What if rather than trying to be right in every discussion I just let someone else be "right," if I just let them "win?"  What if, rather than avoiding an office mate by not walking by their office, I just walk by their office and see what happens?  What if rather than attempting to carefully control the events of my day I just accept what comes, savor it, learn from it, and pray through it.  It's not fatalism, as choice cannot be escaped, but it is a long restfulness and acceptance that likely will bring greater enjoyment of the moment.

In the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, one has a sense of a man who moved in the direction of his calling, ultimately a calling requiring his death, but one who responded to the need of the moment, to the person he beheld.  When the woman touched the hem of his robe, he stopped and addressed her.  Though weary, when the crowds sought him out, he was there for them.  Though sleeping, he awoke at his disciples' insistence to calm a storm.  Though omnipotent and sovereign, he refused to pull rank and flatten those who would crucify him. Though a man with a mission, he accepted what came because life on shuffle was, in the end, just life on God's time.

G.K. Chesterton, one of the most quotable of men, once said that "Self-denial is the test and definition of self-government." By having so many choices, by not having to deny ourselves much, we become slaves of our passions, both the relatively benign ones like what song I will listen to next to the more dangerous ones like what food I will eat (gluttony) or who I will sleep with (sexual immorality).  Market economies and liberal democracies thrive on the notion that an expansion of choice is always good, that having what I want when I want it is always good.  It's not.  In the end, self-government is, in God's economy, an agent of freedom and enjoyment.  Limiting choice can lead to a greater enjoyment of what we have.  The notion that I don't have to have what I can have is a freeing thought.

I'm just going to put life on shuffle.  I'm just going to see what happens next.